Modern day teller of tales

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Grammy Award-winner David Holt will entertain crowds with his music and stories at Uncle Dave Macon Days.
Storytelling is an important part of old-time music.

And no one knows that better than Uncle Dave Macon Days Heritage Award winner David Holt.

“I grew up in a family of informal storytellers, and there was plenty to tell about our wild and wooly Texas forefathers,” said Holt, a native of Garland, Texas. “Storytelling was just a natural part of family life for me. I never thought about telling stories in public until I began to collect mountain music and came across interesting and unusual anecdotes from mountain folks. I began to use these stories in concerts and realized the power storytelling holds.”

Holt, who plays 10 different instruments, but focuses on the banjo and steel guitar, has spent his career sharing, recording and preserving traditional folk music and tales. One of the most important stories he tells is that of the old-time music itself, he said.

“Any of us who play traditional music yearn for that to carry on,” he said. “And part of my job is to expose people to the music and encourage young people to play it.”

Play it they will at the 34th annual Uncle Dave Macon Days.

The festival is the national competition for old-time clogging, buckdancing, fiddling and old-time singing. It also features a weekend of impromptu concerts Friday-Sunday, July 9-11 at Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village on Front Street in Murfreesboro.

One of the highlights of the weekend will be the presentation of the Heritage Award, which recognizes an individual who has dedicated a lifetime to the preservation and promotion of traditional music. It will be presented on stage at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 9.

“David Holt is a wonderful choice for this year’s Heritage Award,” explained Gloria Christy, Uncle Dave Macon Days festival director. “He is a multi-talented individual who has a deep respect for those who taught him the old-time tunes, and so passionately brings them alive on stage in a fun and exciting manner.”

The four-time Grammy Award winner said winning the Heritage Award is a great honor, because not only he may encourage others to pick up the banjo, but also because of the role Uncle Dave played in his life.

“Uncle Dave was one of the first old-time musicians I heard,” Holt said. After he heard the Grand Old Opry star and Rutherford County resident play, he had to learn the same songs and still plays that old-time music.

“He took great old songs and played them in a way that were interesting to people,” Holt said about Uncle Dave. Holt added Doc Watson, another of his inspirations and collaborator, does the same thing today.

“He (Watson) has the ability to make an old song sound new and new song sound old,” he explained. It’s a skill he admires greatly and is needed to tell the story of old-time music to a new generation.

Holt as told the story of old-time music for years through his television and radio series. He currently is the host of public television’s Folkways, a North Carolina program that takes the viewer through the Southern Mountains visiting traditional craftsmen and musicians, and Public Radio International’s Riverwalk Jazz, which focuses on another traditional Southern sound. He served as host of The Nashville Network’s Fire on the Mountain, Celebration Express and American Music Shop.

He has been a frequent guest on Hee Haw, Nashville Now and The Grand Ole Opry, and had a cameo in the popular film, O Brother Where Art Thou.

But his career hasn’t been all Hee Haw and Hollywood.

In 1975, Holt founded and directed the Appalachian Music Program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., where he taught students to study, collect and learn traditional music and dance.

His recordings have been enshrined in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. State Department even sponsored some of his performances as a musical ambassador, taking the sounds of American folk music to such diverse lands as Nepal, Thailand, South America and Africa.

Holt has focused his attention on preserving and performing old-time music since 1981.

In the past 30 years, Holt has fascinated audiences with his music and stories, like the music and stories have fascinated him.

His audiences are constantly involved, learning to play the paper bag or listening to the haunting sound of a 122-year-old mountain banjo.

“To be successful with old time music, you have to entertain the crowd with different sounds,” he said.

He added mountain folk would use a variety of different objects to make music.

“I am fascinated by the odd things mountain people would play,” he said, adding that’s why he plays everything from the banjo to the bones.

“The only homemade music in our house was played by my father on bones and spoons that had been passed down in our family for five generations,” he explained.

It these instruments, along with the combination of Scotch-Irish and African influences that makes old-time music a true American art form, he said.

Holt is looking forward to sharing this art form and a few stories with a new audience.

“I’m looking forward to hearing some Uncle Dave stories and sharing some of my own,” he said, like a few stories he heard from Uncle Dave’s bandmates, Sam and Kirk McGhee.

But most of all he is excited about winning an award named for one of his inspirations.

“I’m incredibly honored to get this Heritage Award it means a lot to me.”


Country Music Hall of Fame members Rabon and Alton Delmore, known as The Delmore Brothers, have been named the 2011 Trailblazer Award winners for the 34th annual Uncle Dave Macon Days Festival.

This recognition is presented to those individuals who have blazed a path in traditional music or dance whose work led the way for others to follow.

The brothers were known for their intricate harmonies, prolific songwriting skills and stellar guitar licks. Their music influenced the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan.

Debby Delmore, youngest daughter of Alton, will accept the honor on behalf of her family on stage, at 7 p.m. Friday, July 8 at Cannonsburgh. A musical tribute to the Delmore Brothers will follow.

In addition to their 2001 induction into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame, the Delmore Brothers also are members of the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame (1971 inductees); the Alabama Country Music Hall of Fame (1989 inductees) and the Independent Country Music Association-Germany Hall of Fame (2000 inductees).

Tagged under  David Holt, Music, Uncle Dave Macon Days

Members Opinions:
June 26, 2011 at 7:50am
Great writing...and story-telling...I'll go to Uncle Dave Macon Days
June 28, 2011 at 1:41pm
An exceptionally insightful and entertaining story by Post Editor M. Willard regarding the "true roots" of American music. If, in the very near future, I don't catch an episode of Andy of Mayberry that features the "Darling Family" (portrayed by bluegrass great The Dillards) comin' down off the mountain and pickin' one with Sheriff Taylor, I might be forced to borrow my friend's Doc Watson 33 rpm album and seek my salvation there!

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